‘I want to make harsh electronic music’ says Kele Okereke in the sotto voce that has graced the high end of three Bloc Party albums. As far as that band goes, they were never strangers to harsh electronic noise. Both Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City had their respective (and forgettable) remix albums and 2007’s Flux also proved to be a foreboding of the Kraftwerk looming inside. Third album, the maudlin Intimacy, was electronic from the get go. Modern love proved a little too much for Kele to handle, singing lines as hackneyed as ‘I’m sleeping with people I don’t even like.’
With some of that South London chutzpah still lingering from the Intimacy recording sessions, the band put out One More Chance. The track was a rather unremarkable Haçienda throwback. Kele continued lamenting love lost the only way he knew how; with barely justified melodrama and London Borough wailing. The lack of any involved instrumentation must’ve been a point of contention in the band – Bloc Party are now on official hiatus.
It seems Kele is quite the reactionary and a break from Bloc Party has yielded The Boxer. It’s ten tales of blood and guts in high school, but if only anything on this album was that mature.
The Boxer is a musical and conceptual car crash. Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City captured something precious in the zeitgeist, like moments in time suspended and then sequenced till the pulse turns a siren. Kele’s solo debut, however, proves self-parody and obnoxious self-pity. Battling his own instincts doesn’t work in his favour on The Boxer. Tender vocals and sweet melodies are thrust into pointless collisions with distorted bass and aggressive beats.
Album opener Walk Tall sets the tone for the rest of the album – all meandering fart bass and club beats. Then, towards the end, it insists on showing you its best Justice impression. You can just picture Kele; sitting at his laptop with his M-Audio Ozone keyboard, a wide grin on his face as he fiddles around VSTi presets and drum loops. This is followed by On the Lam; The Boxer’s attempt at drum and bass, falling just short of Goldie’s Timeless in catchiness and soul.
Lead single Tenderoni is Kele’s sub-Bloody Beetroots ode to a catamite P.Y.T. Whether he’s singing from personal experience or otherwise doesn’t really matter. The song is such an incoherent mess it nullifies the lyrics, which are typical Kele fare. He is ever the one to tackle the themes even adults consider taboo. The song suffers from the same problems as the rest of the album in that nothing seems to coalesce. It sounds as though, armed with an AKAI and a prayer, he’s been meticulously sampling every club hit of the past decade and the result is this ten-track Trash club pastiche.
Ballads The Other Side and Everything You Wanted fall just a little short of ‘harsh electronic music.’ The only thing harsh on the ears is the latter song’s clichéd lyrics and the pitch shifting vocals, which come out sounding demented and nauseating. Unholy Thoughts is, however, a break in the clouds – a guitar driven mourning with a monotonous, All My Friends-like beat. A highlight certainly, but at the end of the day just an A Weekend in the City b-side.
The closing tracks Rise, All the Things I Could Never Say and Yesterday’s Gone sound like reverse-engineered copies of the first three songs with more Justice posturing and over-sentimental electro balladry.
This isn’t an anti-electronic bias in the least. There are artists like The Knife, Radiohead, Björk and albums like Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, which take the cold and detached robotic sounds of electronic music and make them soulful, passionate and ultimately human. The Boxer, aside from being a collection of very unimpressive songs, does none of these things. Kele fails to coax a heartbeat from a machine and the album suffers for it.